Tiki Ayiku of TruOrleans
Walk into TruOrleans on any weekend, and you’re greeted by a welcoming lady wearing Mardi Gras beads and a big smile. Tiki Ayiku may have been born and raised in DC, but she has the charm and sunny nature you’d expect from a bartender in the Big Easy.
On Tap: How did you get into bartending?
Tiki Ayiku: This may sound funny, but I saw the movie Cocktail when I was a kid. I always wanted to be a bartender because I thought it was so cool. After I got my grad degree in Education, I wanted to learn something new, so I went to bartending school and I loved it!
OT: What is the best part about working here?
TA: My customers. People from so many walks of life come through our door. I like that I can have an interaction with a customer and by the end of the hour we are cackling, laughing so hard. We have so much fun I need to tell them to use inside voices.
OT: Best item on the menu?
TA: Hands down it is the spinach jambalaya, add shrimp. It’s like heaven in your mouth. The Gator tenders are popular too.
OT: What is your favorite drink, when you aren’t on duty?
TA: I’m not a big drinker, but it’s a Woo Woo. It’s very girly: vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry juice. No one can mess it up.
Catch Tiki Saturday and Sunday daytime, and Tuesday nights.
Although TruOrleans only opened seven months ago, the way the staff interacts with each other, you’d imagine they’d been family for years. With a beautiful rooftop terrace and copper ceilings, after a few Hurricanes, it’s easy to confuse H Street for Bourbon Street. When the warm weather rolls around, expect this place to be busy.
TruOrleans: 400 H St. NE, DC; 202-290-1244; www.truorleans.com.
Justin Friedman of Bayou on Penn
When news hit that the Rookery was reopening as a New Orleans styled bar, it was music to Justin Friedman’s ears. The Buffalo native moved to DC for grad school in 2004, and has been bartending for the same group ever since.
On Tap: How long have you been bartending at Bayou on Penn?
Justin Friedman: Our year anniversary just passed. But before that, I was on staff at the Rookery and Smith Point. It paid my way through grad school and I didn’t want to leave. They are a great group of people to work for.
OT: How did you get into bartending?
JF: I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 15, bussing tables, working in the kitchen. My first gig front of house was an accident. I was a line cook and I cut my finger. The chef kicked me out and they happened to need someone to serve.
OT: They have great live jazz here. Were you always a fan of jazz music?
JF: Hell yeah. I have been going to Jazz Fest for the past seven years. I moved to Austin for a bit, but when they said they were reopening the Rookery as a New Orleans Style bar, that got me right back up to DC.
OT: What is your favorite part of New Orleans?
JF: I like Frenchman Street. It’s far enough away from the quarter that you avoid the frat boy antics but it is lined with bars that have world class musicians.
Catch Justin Thursday through Saturday nights at Bayou on Penn.
The Bayou on Penn has quickly earned a reputation as a destination for live jazz music. On the weekends, crowds pack the top floor for the music. Throughout the week, young professionals gather for delicious food in a cozy atmosphere. Exposed brick walls lined with jazz posters, antique brass instruments and beaded chandeliers add to the relaxed vibe.
Bayou on Penn: 2519 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 703-836-8404; www.bayouonpenn.com.
Greg Solin of Cajun Experience
Greg Solin discovered On Tap when he was looking for a 49ers bar. On Tap discovered Greg over a glass of “Cajun Gerenade” (a rum, vodka, gin, midori mix that tastes like airhead candy). This San Fran native is getting his MBA from GW, but enjoying himself along the way.
On Tap: You’ve been at the Cajun Experience since it opened a year ago; can you describe the regular crowd?
Greg Solin: We have a large group of Native Louisianans, both young and old. The natives are our biggest critics. They’re comparing food to Mom’s Étouffée or Uncle Bob’s Gumbo. They have high expectations. But 99% of the time, they tell us that we’ve hit the nail on the head.
OT: How did you get into bartending?
GS: My family owns restaurants in San Francisco. Growing up, I’d carry trays on Mother’s Day. With a service industry background, we knew that when everybody else had the day off, we worked!
OT: Where would you be found when you aren’t working?
GS: Besides campus? At my 49ers bar—Town Tavern.
OT: What is your favorite item on the menu?
GS: The Steak Dianne: 11oz blackened grilled rib eye covered with crawfish étouffée. It’s like a Cajun surf and turf.
OT: Do you have any plans to visit New Orleans soon?
GS: My girlfriend and I are going in April. I can’t wait for the food!
Catch Greg Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Since the Cajun Experience opened a year ago, it’s established a name for itself with high octane drinks and home-cooked specialties. It’s just off the Dupont path. Everyone from LSU grads living in the city to Lanham residents who left New Orleans 20 years ago flock to the Cajun Experience for a true taste of Cajun flavors. Big plans are underway for Mardi Gras.
The Cajun Experience: 1825 18th St. NW, DC; 202-670-4416; www.cajunexperience.biz.